In Memoriam: Alvin Turner, Memphis Sanitation Worker and Labor Hero


AFSCME mourns the loss of Alvin Turner, a participant of the 1968 Memphis, Tennessee, sanitation workers’ strike for higher wages, better working conditions and the right to organize.

Turner was one of 1,300 sanitation workers who went on strike for two months to win dignity on the job and recognition of their union, AFSCME Local 1733.

The nonviolent strike brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to Memphis, where he was assassinated before the struggle reached its successful conclusion. Turner passed away on Sept. 18 at the age of 83.

In May 2011, the strikers were honored by the U.S. Department of Labor and were inducted into its Hall of Honor for their role in what the agency called the “watershed moment in the civil rights movement that sparked a wave of African-American unionization across the South.”

The 1968 strike is emblazoned on America’s conscience with the marchers’ iconic sign, “I Am A Man,” and also the knowledge that it was the last major civil rights action led by Dr. King. He was assassinated in Memphis just 12 days before the strike was settled. The day before his death, he gave his famous “Mountaintop” speech.

Turner remained active in the labor movement after the strike. He helped other workers in Memphis organize their own union with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and served as a spokesperson for the labor movement in many states and in Washington, D.C., including as a guest lecturer at various colleges and universities.

He was also honored with the key to the City of Jackson, Tennessee, was given the Henry Logan Starks Distinguished Service Award by the Memphis Theological Seminary and an Emmy Award in 2012 for his role in the documentary, “I Am A Man, the Movie.”

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